By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Diane wanted a new life, but that didn't mean her old habits died easily. Her parents began their family as teens, and both drank heavily as they raised two, three, then five children. Diane's father worked as a trucker and welder, and at least once a year something would happen—a lost job, a fight, a whim that things would be better elsewhere—and he and his wife would move their brood to the next place, be it Iowa, California, Kansas or Texas. Diane, born in Knoxville, Iowa, was 9 the first time she spent an entire academic year at one school. In most grades she attended at least two, growing used to saying goodbye to friends and classmates as she went. By the time she dropped out of high school after getting pregnant, the impulse to run when things got rough was hardwired. And things got rough in recovery.
Before, when something upset her or she recalled something disturbing from the past, she just bought a bottle of Jack Daniel's and hit the road. "I went to Oregon, Canada, Colorado, Wyoming," she'd say later. "I'd wake up drunk and do whatever I wanted to do."
Getting clean meant having to deal with difficult problems and endure painful memories with no distractions, and she hated it. Recollections and emotions seemed to bludgeon her every day, from the moment she awoke to the time she lay down in her bed at the 24-Hour Club rehab shelter on Ross Avenue. There was the time her high school boyfriend hit her while she was pregnant. The time she snorted cocaine when her son was a toddler, went to prison in Liberal, Kansas, and lost custody of her child.
Afterward, she went to visit her older sister in Oakland, California, and sold her body for the first time. It wasn't exactly her goal—she was waiting for her sister to turn a trick down the street—but when a man cruised by in a sedan and beckoned to her, she agreed. It was her first blowjob, and as she did it, she felt insecure and disgusted—mortified to imagine anyone watching her. Yet her embarrassment faded when the man handed her a $20, and that's what most disturbed her when she recalled the experience while sober—the fact that she allowed a piece of green paper to quell her horror.
She felt equally ashamed when recalling the time she called her father from Wells, Nevada, and announced that she was working at a brothel just to goad him. ("I thought I was hot shit," she'd later say. "I wanted to be better than my family—drink better than them, smoke pot better than them, travel the world.") Though she tried not to, she recalled the last time she saw her older sister. They were in Wyoming, doing drugs and selling sex to truckers when her sister refused to let Diane use her needle to shoot up liquefied crack cocaine. It was the '80s, and her sister told Diane she was HIV positive, but Diane didn't care, so she fought with her sister and left. She would find out years later that her older sister was dead—according to relatives, she'd overdosed while suffering from AIDS.
Just as haunting now that she was clean and sober were her failed starts at leaving drugs and "the life" behind. In the late '90s, her modus operandi was to go to the downtown police station of any city, walk a few blocks and insert herself into the inevitable garden of dealers, addicts and johns until her next arrest. She was plying downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma, when a cop became a regular and she fell in love. Determined that her time had come, she went to a halfway house, got clean and after three weeks called the cop. "Look, here's the situation," she said. "I've fallen in love with you." He just laughed. Crushed, she packed her few things into a bag, moved to another city and went looking for crack.
When in rehab the crack-induced cacophony of speedy, paranoid thoughts subsided and she was left with years' worth of painful emotions, her counselors had several suggestions she found helpful. They said to imagine the color of the emotions and then make them change colors. Though it seemed weird, this actually helped. She also had to learn to talk about her past and what she was feeling, to reach out to others. Tamica Bedford, her probation officer, says when she first began working with Diane, the former prostitute's main problem was being proud and stubborn. "She could just get whatever she wanted from men, and at first when we'd give her assignments, she was not hearing it," Bedford says. "She'd just stand there with her arms crossed." One assignment was to call five people each day. At first, Diane managed one or two, and then she took it up to three or four. It began to get easier. Some of those people, many of them fellow addicts or prostitutes from rehab or STAR Court, became close friends. While she was getting to know new people, she also reconnected with her family. The last time she'd spoken to her parents was in the late '80s, when she was running with a group of Mexican drug dealers and feared someone might hurt her family in retaliation for a deal gone bad. While in jail after her last arrest, she managed through mutual friends to locate her parents in Wyoming. Last Christmas, she saw them for the first time in almost 20 years. Relationships have been crucial to her recovery from drugs and transition from prostitution. If she starts to isolate herself, for example, her best friend, whom she met in treatment, will call to find out what's going on.